Paper presented at a conference on social democracy facing the crisis – which I thought might be of interest.
Abstract. The debate over the role that the European Union might play in providing social democratic parties with an opportunity for ‘re-social democratisation’ in the light of global socio-economic constraints has a long heritage. Such a process of re-social democratisation, the paper argues, would require a move towards a greater commitment to, and viable realisation of, measures securing political/economic redistribution or decommodification. This would contrast with the recent history of European social democracy, which has at least since the end of the 1970s been one of ‘de-social democratisation’, as social democratic parties have been unable to resolve the dilemma created by their historic pursuit of redistribution and decommodification within the constraints imposed by capitalism and parliamentary democracy. In the light of the present crisis faced by ‘western’ capitalism (in the form of the Great Recession) social democratic parties have entered a seemingly terminal stage of ideological decline, as the scope for redistribution and/or decommodification has become yet slimmer still. It is within this context that the paper identifies social democratic party actors call (again) for a European alternative, this time in the form of a supranational social democratic response to the Great Recession. Yet, as the paper outlines, the scope for such an ambition to be realised is fanciful at best – as witnessed with the ongoing difficulties in securing either a reflationary European-level stimulus package or a ‘social’ element to any mooted European economic (de)regulatory reforms. Rejecting the view that the European Union acts as a solution or constraint for social democratic alternatives, therefore, the paper instead explores and conceptualises the ambitions of EU-focused social democratic party elites in terms of their attempt to (seek to) retain the faith of remaining social democratic followers, as a coping mechanism employed during the terminal stage of social democratic decline.